Supreme Court ends case over Little Rock payments to chamber of commerce | Arkansas Blog

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Supreme Court ends case over Little Rock payments to chamber of commerce

Posted By on Thu, May 18, 2017 at 9:39 AM

The Arkansas Supreme Court today ordered dismissal of the city of Little Rock's appeal of Judge Mackie Pierce's finding that past payments of $300,000 a year to the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce were unconstitutional handouts to a private corporation.

The Supreme Court sent the case back to circuit court for dismissal because a constitutional amendment adopted by voters in 2016 made the issue in the case moot. That amendment legalized payments to private groups such as chambers of commerce for economic development activities.

City Attorney Tom Carpenter had tried to keep the appeal alive. For one thing, he wanted to get an expanded ruling on city payments to other private organizations that continue in the form of service contracts that might be challenged in the future. Said the opinion by Justice Jo Hart:

However, this court does not have before it these hypothetical cases challenging such appropriations and service contracts that would in tum necessarily require this court to interpret the amendment as well as service contracts not in the current record.

The case was returned to circuit court with instructions that it be dismissed and instructions to Pierce to lift the injunction against prospective city payments to the chamber of commerce in light of the new amendment.

The taxpayers lawsuit also successfully challenged payments made by North Little Rock to a local chamber of commerce. The judge said they were just shams for subsidies, not meaningful service contracts. The ruling set off fears statewide because taxpayer subsidies of private chambers of commerce — which often serve as political lobbying agencies — have become widespread. Sen. Jon Woods, who didn't seek re-election in 2016 in expectation he'd soon be indicted in a kickback scheme, sponsored the amendment to restore payments to chambers of commerce (his Springdale chamber had long been a major beneficiary) and also to expand the amount of money the state could provide to private companies in the name of economic development.

PS: One legal authority I've spoken with thinks the new amendment did NOT give carte blanche for unlimited handouts to chamber of commerce at the mere invocation of the words "economic development."

To date, the new Little Rock subsidy of the Little Rock chamber is just a continuation of the old practice of paying $300,000 for work the chamber was already doing. In return, it gets a pro forma balance sheet accounting and some limits recitation of talks with industrial prospects. Virtually none of the spending is open to pubic inspection. The chamber's records are secret. Representations it makes to prospects about education, political, tax, worker rights and other issues are similarly secret.

The McMath law firm won the case for plaintiffs Jim Lynch, Tony Orr and Glen Miller. Pierce enjoined the payments in 2015, so the chamber was deprived of its taxpayer subsidy of agenda for two years.

Tags: , , , , , ,


Sign up for the Daily Update email
Favorite

Comments (3)

Showing 1-3 of 3

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-3 of 3

Add a comment

More by Max Brantley

Readers also liked…

  • A response to police arrests becomes a tutorial on race, class and policing in Little Rock

    John Walker, the 79-year-old civil rights lawyer, and his associate, Omavi Shukur, 29, a young lawyer devoted to criminal justice reform, talked to press this afternoon about their arrests Monday by Little Rock police for supposedly obstructing governmental operations in observing and attempting to film a routine police traffic stop. It was a tutorial on sharp views of race, class and governance in Little Rock.
    • Sep 29, 2016
  • LR Police Chief Buckner in running for Charleston, S.C. job

    KATV reports that Little Rock Police Chief Kenton Buckner is one of five finalists for the job of police chief in Charleston, S.C., and will be visit Charleston next week as part of the process.
    • Feb 2, 2018
  • Donald Trump declares war on Hillary Clinton's marriage

    Donald Trump gave a remarkable interview to the New York Times yesterday in which he declared open season on the marriage of Bill and Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton's past infidelity. Seems like a loser, but I've been wrong before.
    • Oct 1, 2016

Most Viewed

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Election night open line

    • THANK YOU, Going. Just what I was thinking about waiters and vineyard workers when I…

    • on May 22, 2018
  • Re: Election night open line

    • Congratulations to Stacey Abrams ! Look at what Alabama and Georgia are doing in their…

    • on May 22, 2018
  • Re: Election night open line

    • Trump wants to limit skilled and educated workers from entry to the USA, But no…

    • on May 22, 2018

Slideshows

 

© 2018 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation